In re Briann A.T. et al.
County Family Court No. 98-1873-3, 98-1873-5 Associate
Justice Laureen D'Ambra
Petitioner: Karen A. Clark Department of Children Youth and
Families Lynne Marran Radiches Court Appointed Special
Respondent: Jesse W. Duarte, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Maureen McKenna Goldberg Associate Justice
case came before the Supreme Court on October 4, 2016, on
appeal by the respondent, Marvin T. (respondent), from a Family
Court decree terminating his parental rights to his
daughters, Briann A.T. (Briann) and Bri'Nayshia A.T.
(Bri'Nayshia), who were born on October 3, 2007, and
November 17, 2010, respectively. The parties were directed to
appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal
should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments
of counsel and examining the memoranda filed by the parties,
we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we
proceed to decide the appeal at this time. For the reasons
set forth in this opinion, we affirm the decree of the Family
plight of Briann and Bri'Nayshia first came to the
attention of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families
(DCYF) on August 23, 2012, when DCYF was called to the home
of Briann and Bri'Nayshia's mother in response to an
incident that led to the mother's arrest. DCYF removed
Briann and Bri'Nayshia from the home, placed them on a
forty-eight-hour hold, and filed ex parte neglect
petitions in the Family Court seeking to remove the children
from the care of the mother and respondent-father. During
this time, the whereabouts of respondent were unknown.
decree was entered by the Family Court on January 17, 2013,
finding Briann and Bri'Nayshia to be neglected and
committing them to the care, custody, and control of DCYF. On
October 27, 2014, DCYF filed petitions in the Family Court
seeking to terminate the parental rights of respondent with
respect to both Briann and Bri'Nayshia. With respect to
respondent, DCYF alleged the following grounds for
termination: that the children had been placed in DCYF's
custody or care for at least twelve months; that respondent
was "offered or received services to correct the
situation which led to the [children] being placed"; and
that there was not "a substantial probability that the
[children would] be able to return safely to
[respondent's] care within a reasonable period of time
considering the [children's] age[s] and [their] need for
a permanent home." G.L. 1956 §
15-7-7(a)(3). The respondent contested the petitions and
proceeded to trial.
proceedings were held in Family Court on March 16-18 and
April 1, 2015. The Family Court justice heard testimony from
several witnesses, including Jen Shymanik (Shymanik), a
social worker from DCYF, who was assigned to respondent's
case on February 1, 2013. At that time, Shymanik contacted
respondent and thus began what can only be characterized as
difficult and unsuccessful case planning for a recalcitrant
father with mental-health issues.
record discloses that eight case plans had been developed,
four for each child. Those case plans included the attainable
goals of: obtaining employment, obtaining appropriate
housing, gaining financial stability, attending to the
girls' mental-health and developmental needs, and working
on parenting through visitation, empathy, and bonding.
Shymanik also referred respondent to a psychologist for a
parent-child evaluation; however, respondent refused to
attend. It was only after Shymanik stressed the importance of
the evaluation that in July 2013, respondent agreed to
cooperate. The evaluation centered on respondent's lack
of parenting skills and his own mental-health issues.
Although the evaluation included a referral for respondent to
attend the Families Together program at the Providence
Children's Museum, respondent was ineligible based on his
failure to consistently attend his biweekly visits with
Briann and Bri'Nayshia. Visitation was problematic
throughout case planning efforts. The respondent canceled
many scheduled visits with his daughters, asserting that he
was ill, he had to work, or that the weather was inclement.
estimated that, during her involvement with respondent, he
was offered visitation twice a month but that he attended
only one visit per month. Shymanik testified that during
these visits the girls were "[r]eally affectionate with
one another" but there "seemed to be very little
bond between [respondent] and the girls. * * * [T]hey
weren't very responsive to him." Shymanik credited
respondent for asking questions about Briann and
Bri'Nayshia's day and stressing the importance of
education, but she noted that, in some ways, respondent
"showed very limited capacity to parent." For
instance, after Shymanik informed respondent that a
nephrologist had diagnosed Briann with hypertension and
recommended that she not consume high-fat, sugary, or fried
foods, respondent brought fried chicken and french fries for
her to eat. Although Shymanik provided respondent with
feedback and suggestions for improvement, respondent
"consistently ignored" her and on several occasions
"became sort of argumentative."
testified that, on one occasion, respondent became
confrontational when he arrived for a visit and was informed
that Briann would be approximately half an hour late because
she was attending a friend's birthday party. Shymanik
recalled, "[respondent] * * * had a verbal argument with
the clinician and just walked out of the visit."
Thereafter, respondent "refused" to participate in
the Families Together program, but visitations continued.
Shymanik observed an increase in Bri'Nayshia's
behavioral issues; and, when she brought the problem to
respondent's attention, he "blame[d] [Shymanik] and
the foster parents for the way the children behaved."
When Shymanik explained to respondent that he should be more
protective of the children because of their developmental and
mental-health needs, he replied that the children
"didn't have any service needs at all" and that
their behavior arose from lenient parenting by the foster
parents. Shymanik informed respondent that his daughters had
been diagnosed with communication, behavioral, and medical
needs and that Briann and Bri'Nayshia had been referred
to early-intervention services and enhanced outpatient
services. These services were delayed, however, because
respondent flatly refused to sign the necessary release
forms; requiring DCYF to seek the Family Court's
permission for Briann and Bri'Nayshia to receive these
December 2013, Shymanik referred respondent to the Newport
County Mental Health Services for a psychiatric evaluation.
During the evaluation, respondent took no responsibility for
any missed visits and informed the evaluator that he was
"doing everything he could" but that DCYF
"didn't want * * * him to have his kids."
regard to future planning for Briann and Bri'Nayshia,
respondent was informed that he needed to ensure that the
children would not be exposed to unsafe living conditions.
Although respondent admitted his residence "wasn't
an appropriate place" for Briann and Bri'Nayshia, he
made no effort to obtain suitable housing. Shymanik testified
that, while respondent met certain goals in the case plans
such as obtaining employment, his mental-health issues,
especially his "combative approach" to
disciplining, were continuous concerns. In addition to being
concerned about his mental-health, Shymanik testified to her
repeated concerns that ...